Hyènes

[Screenshot]I, like a lot of college students of German, read Dürrenmatt’s Der Besuch der Alten Dame, and found it reasonably interesting. There are surprisingly few films based on this work, and Hyènes is both the highest-profile and in many ways the most intriguing. It actually hews quite close to the source material but manages to take on new themes: A little Senegalese desert village is a different matter, both culturally and economically, from even the most decrepit Swiss town, and the prospect of even comparatively modest wealth having as profound an effect as Ramatou’s does is somewhat more believeable in this context. This adaptation also drops some of the more overtly farcical aspects of the Dürrenmatt work, such as Clare’s ludicrously large and purely comic entourage. The resulting work is more grounded in reality and more chilling. It’s still shot through with dark comedy, because the story fundamentally has an element of the absurd, but it feels a lot meatier and sharper in this less fantastic setting.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

No Man’s Land

[Screenshot]Louisville has a pretty significant Bosnian population, so I’ve recently taken an opportunity to learn a bit more about th Bonsnian War. The prevailing view, in retrospect, seems to be that misbehavior was rife on both sides and that there’s plenty of blame to go around, and that this wasn’t one of those wars with a right side and a wrong side. No Man’s Land works pretty freelly with that interpretation, playing it for black humor. Its sense of humor is really very dry, drawing pretty much exclusively from situational absurdity rather than dialogue. It’s sobering, which a good black comedy should be.

Thematically, there are parts which reminded me of Hotel Rwanda: once again we have a UN force whose ability to actually be useful to anyone is incredibly limited, and a conflict whose purpose is unclear even to the participants. The introduction of the press as a force to be contended with presents something of a contrast, though. The story remains taut throughout, in spite of some downtime, so from a pacing perspective I view this as a success. In fact, there’s very little that didn’t work in this film: it has skilled actors and competent cinematography around an interesting story played straight but inherantly absurd. It mostly steers around the obvious cliches of the “brother-against-brother” wartime plot and delivers some solid sucker-punches in the plot. It’s definitely worth the under 2 hours it’ll take from your life.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

N・H・Kにようこそ/Welcome to the NHK, episodes 1–4

[Screenshot]I’d heard good things about Welcome to the NHK. Not nearly good enough, really. It’s a brilliant black comedy shot through with interesting dramatic elements. Satou and Yamazaki come across as fairly sympathetic, which is already a feat since they’re really not terribly attractive human beings, and their hopeless fumbling through life is actually quite keenly tragicomic. It seems like they should be not only repulsive but also inaccessible, what with their disorders falling into categories not really common in America: namely, hikikomori and otaku. But they’re drawn with enough life and character that even for people to whom these are a bit remote, their social awkwardness and paranoia provide reasonable handles on the character. Misaki’s somewhat more cipheric, but her character, which I imagine is expanded upon later in the series, is surely supposed to be a bit enigmatic at this point.

So we have a sad story about the awful life and foibles of two losers. it’s also howlingly funny. Not funny in the usual post-Dumb and Dumber style of a lot of American comedy, althoguh it plays on the same basic framework, because I think it hits closer to home (at least for me). Mental illness is not generally funny and most authors tread a thin line trying to make it so. Here it really works, and I couldn’t say why.

Apropos of technical details, it’s generally pretty well-animated and stylistically consistent. The voices sound good even in the English dub, particularly Misaki. And, since this may be the area of discussion this best fits into, it’s worth noting that the closing animation is the second most disturbing credits roll I’ve seen on anime (incidentally, the characters in this appear in the anime itself too, although I’m still hazy on their narrative function).

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia, Anime News Network.